90-year-old marble vandalized with gang graffiti

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- If the walls of the Chelan County Courthouse could talk, they might tell tales of crime and punishment; of weddings, of births, of someone's first home.

But 90 years after the building on Orondo Avenue first went up, what someone did inside here is bringing the mood back down.

"Employees that work here and all the visitors have cared for and respected this building for 90 years," said Brenda Abney, director of the Wenatchee Valley Museum. "One malicious act has taken that all away. And it's just sad. Really sad."

Historic records show that the building - which began construction in 1923 - was the first structure built specifically for Chelan County government, Abney said. It was completed for at a cost of $400,000, with granite shipped in from the town of Index and marble from Alaska.

"There is a huge sense of pride with establishing a county seat," she added. "They wanted to have a presence as well. It had some class to it: the elegance, the marble, the granite, the hand-crafted details."

Those same marble walls and red oak doors were the target of gang graffiti sometime this summer, said Wenatchee Police Sgt. Jim West. Detectives believe someone took a sharp object and etched letters and symbols into several marble walls and wooden doors in the men's bathroom on the 3rd and 4th floors of the courthouse.

"It's gang graffiti of a local gang that's here," West said. "We do take this graffiti seriously and we do investigate it and we try to hold people responsible. Especially when it's here at the courthouse, we take it even more seriously."

The Alaskan marble used in the original construction is no longer mined, said maintenance workers at the courthouse. Replacing the marble with its next closest match - Italian marble - would cost the county $35 a square foot.

"Alaska no longer has any marble coming out of their quarries," he said, adding that crews have done their best to buff out some of the damage.

Police arrested 21-year-old Jesse Wawers of Wenatchee in connection with the case, and charged him with second-degree malicious mischief, a felony. Wawers faces 31 additional counts related to other gang graffiti found around town, West added.

Repairing or replacing the damaged parts will cost about $60,000 by county estimates, but Abney fears that a piece of county history is irreparably damaged.

"You can't get it any more," she said. "Once something is damaged - that is, at this point, almost 90 years old - and is so special, it's gone forever. It made me sick."